It wasn't my day to....




#1
The smell of Lebanese breakfast sizzling away caused my eyes to open and the crisp morning air outside refreshed while I smoked my first cigarette of the day. Taking notice of the garbage pile and scorch marks on the lot behind the hillside dwelling gave me motivation to plan a clean up for after breakfast. My host Fakhir had risen earlier for some reason and I noticed him across the street with two friends on motorcycles waving and smiling. In the distance, the deep blue color of the Mediterranean sea called out to me and I longed to be closer to it and away from this rapidly developing involuntary field trip.

Unbeknownst to me, his reason for waking up early was to rummage through my luggage in order to steal my pair of good dress shoes as well as my prized pair of brown Frye Harness boots, various tools, knives and various nick knacks to pass to those smiling heathens in order to sell for cash. That mandatory sleep over cost over $800 USD of property and was like sleeping in a wolf's den.

Fakhir was sent to collect me with his mother at the WH hotel in Hamra which is a district of Beirut. I had been unable to pay the bill at that hotel due to multiple suspiciously denied money transfer orders over the period of several days. A dear friend of mine in Qatar had arranged a "trusted" person to extend a gesture of help to me and make my stay in that country much more comfortable. Little did I know that there was a sinister agenda behind this.

Interestingly enough and soon upon picking me up, Fakhir was compelled to show me his Remington pump shotgun that was loaded with bird shot saying that he wanted to invite me to go shooting up in the hills with his cousin and a friend. I thought nothing of the gesture and agreed to go with him and his friends sometime later that day.

The shabby structure that he called home, was adjoined to the village's water reservoir which stood along a spring's discharge point somewhere uphill. The previously noted litter engulfed the rear of the building with endless detritus that looked like nothing more than fodder for a garbage fire. A collapsed tree obstructed the rear exit of the property that had a lane just behind it for the neighbors to access their homes on the street uphill and behind the cabin.

After freshening up and having breakfast, I began to pack my things but was distracted from doing so by Fakhir who insisted that I join him for a cigarette while taking a phone call from someone who was purportedly my friend and brother in faith Zamel Al Shammari. The discussion was about the vehicle I left in his care for resale to a third party. We had a disagreement about his intentions for the sale which would render a five thousand dollar loss and I no longer desired to speak with him or Fakhir due to what I believed was subterfuge.

The disagreement led to an all out argument with Fakhir who was pleading with me very annoyingly to take the deal (this due to him wanting me out of his hair. I had only been with him since the night before).

The trash pile was calling me and I decided to start arranging iron rods I found in the yard onto some stones and cinder blocks to fashion a grate on which to stack the trash for faster burning. Fakhir decided to have a problem with my actions telling me that it is illegal to have open fires on the hill because of forest fire concerns. I pointed to the wet ground and departing storm clouds to rebut his nonsense and pressed on. The stack of rubbish started to grow and I began to layer furniture cushions with scrap wood and rags as well as corrugated cardboard.

Fakhir said, "please don't light that, we will have trouble" and left saying he was off to buy some cigarettes. His rickety Daewoo with a bad transmission and blown muffler was a bullhorn for any would be pedestrians that attempted to make their way across the narrow hillside roads in the area.

Well, you know I have never been a fan of following silly rules so the torch lighter I was carrying went directly to the foam cushions and soon the fire took hold. At first it was slow and calm, climbing, exploring, tasting and sniffing for the best bit to burn but within minutes, it developed into a growing inferno, with every second adding intensity. The chunks of broken wood off the fallen tree had been soaked by the week of rain that had overtaken the city and they hissed and steamed with discontent at the licking flames. Like a well choreographed dance, little by little the components took to fire and the density of the smoke diminished until it was fraction of what it was at the beginning.

The sound of an oncoming vehicle broke the symphony of fire and I turned to see that it was a Police SUV pulling up just ahead of the familiarly noisy Daewoo Automobile driven by Fakhir. A Lebanese Police officer approached me shouting something in Lebanese Arabic to which I answered "Sorry, I do not speak Arabic. Do you speak English". The officer motioned to the fire and made a display that was meant to communicate that I could not have a fire here. I pointed at the scorched earth in another spot and shrugged my shoulders playing dumb. Fakhir translated to me the officer's wish that I extinguish the fire and pack my things as I was not allowed in the village by order of the local community leader. I found this to be very interesting but did not object since I was happy to oblige and get off that hillside. An empty Jerry can worked well to collect the necessary water to douse the flames after a couple of refills. My bag was packed quickly and I noticed how much more roomy it was but the pressure to pack and leave prevented me from investigating why this was so.

My bags were loaded into the vehicle and I was off with the cop. Upon arrival at the Police precinct, I made my way inside with my gear and began to answer questions about why I was in the area and was asked to produce identification. Unfortunately, my passport was still at the hotel since I had been unable to pay the bill and my wallet had stayed behind in Doha during the melee to leave the country under armed guard with a chase and a lead vehicle.

These facts did not ring well with the very loud speaking chief and he threatened that I could be held until I could produce a passport. My reaction to this was to put my wrists together and motion in a sarcastic gesture of surrender to him. He flailed his arms and retreated from my presence showing a degree of admiration for my actions. The morning went on and I asked to submit a complaint against the thief that had brought me to the area after I was told that foreigners are not allowed. The police commander asked who brought me there, under what circumstances I was there and I simply told him to talk to the officer that picked me up as he must have the name and telephone number to Fakhir and his mother who was a party to the whole situation.

The phone calls to both people did nothing for my complaint and the officers flat out refused to write down anything I said against the people who stole from me. Fakhir was summoned to the station and ordered to give me the money he had in compensation for my stolen items. A total of $4.75 was passed to me even though he admitted to taking the items. After the hotel general manager was reached to confirm my identity, I was told to leave the area and not return and to file any grievances with the main headquarters of police in Beirut as they handle tourist affairs.

A minibus driver was waiting to transport me to the city center transit area for the agreed upon price of $1.33 USD which was 2,000 Lebanese livres (pounds). My gear was stowed in the vehicle and the desert scarf wearing driver made his way along the route to town picking up a vanload of passengers along the way. The driver asked me where I wanted to go. I told him that I would like to go to Jounieh and he said he could do it for 30,000 livres ($20 USD) but I could not pay that and told him to leave me at the transit area.

As I was unloading my bags, I passed the driver the previously agreed upon (with police) amount of 2,000 livres ($1.33) and he began to scream that the fare was 3,000 ($2.00). My reply was "Go get the rest from those A-hole cops that brought me to you."

He stepped out of his minibus and continued to berate me, escalating until he was directly in front of me and screaming like a mad man over the 66 cents of fare that he claimed I owed him. I stood firm just observing him until he took his hand and extended his finger to touch my chest. I grabbed said finger and rotated it back before he snatched it and took a few steps backwards screaming at me in Arabic. He was behaving very threateningly and made slashing motions with his hand. Then, he began to reach for his pocket, fumbling with the faded denim after lifting his grey sweater. A large clip-on folding knife began to emerge from the pocket. Like in slow motion, I stood still watching him scream and unfold the knife. He then extended the knife toward me and took one step in my direction which I matched in reverse to maintain the distance. Every step was matched and I wasn't even breathing hard or adrenalized.

As I walked backward, I began to run through the scenario of front kick to the chest or throat followed by a stomp to the mid forearm and kick to the knife. I was met by a barrier that guarded the column supporting the shelter of the gas station pumps and leaned against it to raise my right leg. The driver suddenly stopped, looked to his left and made a hasty retreat screaming in the distance in a cloud of diesel smoke after executing a haphazard u-turn through dense traffic. Onlookers simply stared as I gathered my property and an English speaking young man said, "You need to get out of here man, it is dangerous for you."

I made it to the peaceful resort town of Jounieh after nearly two hours of a city transit bus and bluffed my way into a hotel there. My tobacco pipe and cherry cavendish filled the air of my balcony overlooking the bay of Jounieh as I waited for a burger through room service.

It wasn't my day to die...

This is a work of non-fiction and depicts actual events that I experienced during five weeks in Beirut, Lebanon following my forced departure from Qatar. More to follow.
 
#3
This is a first draft of a single day's events in that country. It is very personal but not the final version of text. Lot's of polishing to do on this one and the others. I literally just banged it out after waking due to insomnia related to this period of time.

Feel free to post up your own international story.. I would love to read it and offer constructive criticism.
 

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